Defying the Odds, Moving Forward
As a child in my grandmother's house, I never realized that my family was poor. To my childish mind, the steady diet of ground provisions from the local market--yam, bananas, breadfruit, ackee, and calaloo--simply meant that grandmother was set in her old ways; not that the brightly packaged consumables on the supermarket shelves were too far beyond the family budget. The fact that I was sent to live with father's mother meant that my own mother saw it necessary that I spend more time getting to know my father; not that she, a twenty-seven year old with three pre-teens could not afford to keep all her children.
The concepts of poverty, class, social exclusion, and race did not begin to take shape in my mind until I entered high school in the late 1980s. By then, I had long departed the insular world of my grandmother's home and had resumed living with my mother who could now afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment to accommodate the four of us.
As a student at a prominent all-girls school in Kingston, I became acutely aware of Jamaica's social strata--an inherently divisive construct which relegated poor families like the one I came from to the bottom. I soon assimilated into the school culture which, inspite of its best attempts to inculcate a unifying sense of identity amongst us girls, reflected the values of the wider society. I somehow accepted that I could never acquire the unfamiliar swagger that the lighter-skinned girls from uptown walked around with. I sub-consciously acquiesced to the conditioning that my peers, who came from mainly two-parent households and seemed to play all the sports I'd only just heard about since first form,would go on to law school, medical school, or some other prescribed pathway; while I would need to find a job.
Years later, I entered college on the savings I'd accumulated from my first job at the age of sixteen. During my college years in the United States, I discovered new concepts, like, feminism and Civil Rights which helped me clarify the rousing internal discontent I'd felt throughout much of my youth. Reading Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Richard Wright, W.E.B Dubois, and many others made me stand taller as a young woman navigating my way through New York City, and later Europe and Asia.
As a professional woman now in my mid-thirties, I have travelled a long way from the defiant little girl in my grandmother's household. Yet,despite the knowledge and experience I have acquired, I have encountered the gamut of discrimination both personally and professionally. Now, however, I choose to respond differently.
I can no longer ignore the overwhelming impulse in my heart to act. I believe it's time to use the knowledge I've gained, the strength of my voice, and the skills I've developed to inspire younger girls to believe in themselves and to know that they can achieve whatever they set their minds to, regardless of their economic backgrounds, gender, colour, class, or any difficulties they've experienced in their lives.
I am encouraged by the World Pulse community because I see that there is an army of other women like me. Some are further along in their activism, others, like me, are just beginning to rise up and need the support, the training, and the platform to move forward.